News and Articles

Behind the Curtain

by Chuck Reider, Executive Director of the Reno Jazz Orchestra

Reno Jazz Orchestra (RJO) fans recognize me, the RJO’s musicians, and guest artists but most don’t get to meet the folks who help put together our concerts and keep the RJO moving forward. With the holidays on the way it reminded me how thankful I am the RJO has such great people working for us and today’s article I am going to take you “behind the curtain” to meet three of those folks; Jennifer Mannix, Lee Koch, and Danne Polk.

Jennifer Mannix recently rejoined the RJO as our Events Manager. At RJO concerts and special events you may see her at the box office, at our intermission meet and greets, or more likely a blur as she zips around making sure all is in place and ready to go. Growing up in Bellevue, Washington she decided in 1981 it was time for an adventure and decided Reno was just the spot for that adventure. Her first job at Harrah’s introduced her to the gaming and entertainment industry and after seven years moved over to the Flamingo Hilton where her mentor, Ferenc Szony, tasked her to manage the Flamingo entertainment including special events. It was here where she found her love for the arts. Moving over to the Sands in 1998 as the Marketing Director she introduced the summer Jazz at the Sands concert series that continues today. I met her at one of the Sands concerts and she offered to host our 2006 Holiday concert at the Sands. I was impressed by her enthusiasm and was thrilled when Mannix joined the RJO as our first paid staff in 2011. Her job then was anything that needed to get done, from grant writing, to event management, and mc’ing events. She got to explore her creativity with us helping produce such concerts as “The Jazz Soul of Porgy and Bess” and “Such Sweet Thunder” on the roof of the Nevada Museum of Art. In 2014 she accepted a full-time position at Artown and was a key member producing signature events transforming our community into an arts destination. In 2019 it was off for a new adventure in New Mexico, but she missed Reno, her friends, and all the arts activities so she returned and the RJO is thrilled to have her back.

Mannix loves our community and is devoted to enhancing the cultural vibrancy of northern Nevada. Most of all she loves introducing the arts to those who may not get a chance to experience the arts and its effect on our emotional and physical well-being. She enjoys working with a team and as the RJO liaison to the community, events manager, and digital marketing coordinator and her efforts are very much appreciated.

Lee Weber Koch joined us in 2014 as our marketing director and as we grew, she added the task of development director. She is a SoCal gal whose heart belonged in the mountains since her parents took her skiing at a very young age.

With a degree in Journalism/Public Relations from the University of Southern California in hand she applied and was accepted at Heavenly Ski Resort. Koch had always wanted to be in the ski business and spent fifteen years at Heavenly. As Koch likes to say, “since 1979, I have lived 6,000 feet above sea level.” After Heavenly, she was on a new mission as the director of sales and marketing for the community of Incline Village. For twelve years she promoted the ski resort, cross country center, golf courses, beaches, and sports programs. If you have ever tried driving in Incline during peak tourist season you know she was a success!

In 1995 she founded her marketing company, Weber & Associates (which she still is the principal today). She has a long list of clients which includes her true passion, non-profit organizations. In past years she has worked with the Sierra Nevada Ballet, Reno Chamber Orchestra, Tahoe Chamber Orchestra, and the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. Koch was awarded 'Marketer of the Year' from the Nevada Chapter of the American Marketing Association and holds a 'Silver Dollar Award of Excellence' from the International Association of Business Communicators.

Koch loves all her work, but her passion is working with the RJO and other non-profits. Why? She knows they are positively changing lives for the better every day. She feels that is why she is here, to give back to the community she loves. Koch volunteers for numerous non-profits like Tahoe Family Solutions, Defenders of Freedom, and many others. The RJO appreciates Koch’s efforts supporting us, and she has a new initiative; letting all who have recently moved to the area know about the RJO and the impact we have on the community. As a successful businessperson she also wants to mentor younger professionals and inspire them to get involved in their community through non-profit organizations.

Danne Polk is our webmaster and graphic designer who also joined us in 2014. Growing up in Ridgecrest, CA in the 1960’s his parents took him with them to Reno. They would enjoy the nightlife and Polk got to explore and grew fond of Reno. Moving to Reno would come later, but first it was off to Humboldt State University (HSU) to study philosophy where he met his long-time spouse Bob Callaghan. After Callaghan graduated from HSU, on a whim, Danne dropped out of school and the two of them moved to Boston. There, Callaghan studied piano technology at the New England Conservatory and they both enjoyed the diverse music scene that Boston had to offer in the late 70s and early 80s. In 1984, they moved back to Humboldt County, CA so that Polk could finish his studies at HSU.

Next stop was Philadelphia where Polk continued graduate studies in philosophy at Villanova. After graduation he was hired as an adjunct faculty member of the Philosophy Department at Villanova. It was at this time that the university was making the transition from typewriters and card catalogs to the World Wide Web. He became fascinated with the new technology and taught himself how to use it. He created a website geared toward teaching philosophy in the classroom which morphed into a website to sell books. Clients started coming to him to create websites for their businesses and he was soon making more money creating and maintaining websites than his adjunct faculty position. About this time Polk's mother suffered a stroke and the best place for her rehabilitation was Reno. Polk and Callaghan had been considering a move back west and this prompted them to make the move to Reno where they have made a home in the old southwest section of the city.

Today Polk has a client list that includes the RJO, For the Love of Jazz (FTLOJ), a piano rebuilding company, a piano moving company, several local musicians and professionals. He appreciates that the RJO gave him the opportunity to move into graphic arts and enjoys working with our staff. Both Polk and Callaghan are starting to consider retirement to spend more time going to concerts, hiking and biking, and to explore the music scene here in Reno, but also in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles. They plan to stay here in Reno as their home base.

Mannix, Koch, and Polk are three folks who make a big difference in supporting the mission of the RJO. I hope you all get a chance to meet them at one of our events and get to know them. They have all become my good friends and I look forward to working with them for some time to come.

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